Noteworthy paperbacks

June 21, 2014 

We Need New Names, by NoViolet Bulawayo. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $15.) Ten-year-old Darling, the narrator of Bulawayo’s striking first novel, a Man Booker Prize finalist, ekes out a bare-bones existence in a Zimbabwe shantytown. When she’s sent to live with relatives in Detroit, Darling discovers that, far from the comforts of her childhood community, much of America’s abundance is out of reach, and she is forced to reckon with the sacrifices and mixed rewards of assimilating.

Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens. (Twelve) After an 18-month battle with esophageal cancer, Hitchens died on Dec. 15, 2011, at age 62. Like virtually everything the prolific essayist wrote over his distinguished career, these dispatches from “Tumortown” – written after his diagnosis – are diamond-hard and devastating. They describe the torments of illness, discuss its taboos and ruminate on how disease transforms experience.

& Sons, By David Gilbert. (Random House) A.N. Dyer, a crotchety, Salinger-like writer in New York, gathers his three sons – all of them struggling to establish their independence – for a tense reunion in Gilbert’s big, brilliant novel. Sprinkled throughout “& Sons” are excerpts from Dyer’s canonical “Ampersand,” a coming-of-age novel almost as famous as “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Gabriele D’annunzio: Poet, Seducer, and Preacher of War, by Lucy Hughes-Hallett. (Anchor) This rewarding biography argues that d’Annunzio (1863-1938), considered by many the greatest Italian poet since Dante, merits study not only as a literary figure but also as a major political one: He promoted an extreme strain of turn-of-the-century Italian nationalism, agitated for Italy’s entry into World War I and set up a ministate in the Adriatic town of Fiume, with himself as its decadent commandant.

Metaphysical Dog, by Frank Bidart. (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) In this poetry collection Bidart returns to the rough, terse, sometimes shocking phrasings that won him attention decades ago. Now he uses them to ask how memory works, what poetry does and what either of them can do for souls, and bodies, past life’s midpoint.

Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney in the White House, by Peter Baker. (Anchor) One of the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books of 2013, this fine account acknowledges the Bush administration’s accomplishments but excuses none of its errors. Baker, the Times’ chief White House correspondent, chronicles the Bush-Cheney partnership as it evolved during an era marked by terror attacks, the Iraq War, Hurricane Katrina and financial collapse.

Stay Up With Me: Stories, by Tom Barbash. (Ecco/HarperCollins) In the tradition of John Cheever, Barbash’s piercing stories follow lonely, unhappy and at least temporarily ruined people as they try to connect to one another and to the cruel world around them.

New York Times

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